Harry Ransom Center

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Harry Ransom Center

In October 2017, the Harry Ransom Center acquired 6,500 war poetry books and manuscripts collected by Dean Echenberg, a former flight surgeon in the Vietnam War. 

“When I came back from Vietnam, I started to naturally gravitate towards books about war,” Echenberg said. “I was looking for people who had experiences similar to mine.”

Students will soon be able to see the collection, which is currently being cataloged and will be made available to researchers and students on a rolling basis.

Echenberg, who currently lives in San Francisco, started off collecting World War I poetry but wanted to diversify his collection with rarities that others did not want.

“(WWI poetry) is a collectible genre,” Echenberg said. “It really didn’t satisfy me, so I started looking at WWII poetry … (The poetry collection) gradually started to expand, and I started to collect poetry from other cultures. I decided to collect any poetry written by any man, woman or child who had experienced war and wanted to express it in the form of poetry.”

Engineering junior Kolsti Nguyen, who performs for on-campus poetry club UT Spitshine, said he is interested in poetry that provides different perspectives about the Vietnam War because of his own connection to the war. Nguyen’s father is Vietnamese and was born five years before the war ended.

“I have read a lot of writers who write about war, but they mainly write about war from the perspective of the soldier,” Nguyen said. “On a more geopolitical, broad perspective, I have a lot of negative feelings towards what the military did during these wars … even though the perspective I am most interested in, especially with the Vietnam War, is the civilian perspective, I do like reading poems by writers like Tim O’Brien and Ernest Hemingway as soldiers in the war who were drafted and didn’t have much of a choice.”

Jim Kuhn, associate director for Library Division at the Ransom Center, said the most compelling aspect of the collection is its breadth.

“It includes writings by combatants and noncombatants who have lived through the experience of war,” Kuhn said. “Although many of the collections we have focus on the writings of a specific individual, this collection focuses on a specific kind of experience written about by many people.”

The Harry Ransom Center acquired the archives of late Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez. The center plans to make them available to the public by fall 2015.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Harry Ransom Center

Annotated manuscripts, photographs and letters belonging to the late Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez have found a resting place at the Harry Ransom Center, the University announced this week.

At the age of 87, García Márquez, a Nobel laureate and author of “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” died in April, leaving behind more than 2,000 letters, more than 40 photograph albums, original book manuscripts and the drafts of his unpublished book, “We’ll See Each Other in August.” The center expects the archives to be catalogued and open to the public by fall 2015.

In December 2013, months before García Márquez’s death, representatives of his family contacted the Harry Ransom Center to propose an arrangement for the archives, said Steve Enniss, director of the Harry Ransom Center.

“I think the reason that we were approached before anyone else was is really due to the Ransom Center’s reputation as one of the finest cultural archives in the country,” Enniss said.

The family’s decision may have also been influenced by the center’s location, which, Enniss said, serves as a gateway to Central America.

According to Enniss, he and Jose Montelongo, the Mexican materials bibliographer for the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies Benson Latin American Studies and Collections, traveled to Mexico City, where García Márquez spent his final years, to review the archive materials. Montelongo said García Márquez’s work will interest researchers of various disciplines, but literary scholars will especially enjoy the writer’s manuscripts and drafts.

“You can see García Márquez editing himself,” Montelongo said. “This window into the work of the artist is of tremendous value for anyone interested in literary creation.”

Despite some controversy over the final location of the collection, Montelongo said the University’s high-ranking programs in Latin American studies made the Harry Ransom Center an appropriate home for García Márquez’s work.

“LLILAS is one of the best for the study of Latin America and the Benson Collection has been collecting Latin American materials for decades, so the interest in Latin America is nothing new,” Montelongo said.

According to a University statement, the LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections will support the Harry Ransom Center catalogue the archive and plan future events and exhibits.

Alicia Santana, Latin American studies senior, said she would like to see the archive’s manuscripts.

“I’m kind of a writer, too, so I would be interested in seeing that thought process from someone who’s so great at it,” Santana said.

D.J. Britton, award-winning dramatist and director, explains the research behind the “Sultan and the Saint” at Prothro Theater in the Harry Ransom Center.

Photo Credit: Claire Schaper | Daily Texan Staff

D.J. Britton, dramatist and Swansea University creative writing director, showcased his current research on the history of St. Francis of Assisi in a lecture Friday at the Harry Ransom Center.

The lecture was part of Swansea University’s Texas Showcase — a week-long tour presenting Welsh university’s research with stops at UT, Texas A&M University and the University of Houston.

Britton said the project, a collaboration with experts from both UT and Texas A&M, focuses on St. Francis’ role during the early 13th century as a peacemaker for the Middle East.

“I am personally very interested in the relationship between the ‘long view’ and the ‘short view,’” Britton said. 

Britton said he was a journalist before becoming a dramatist. According to him, journalists are focused on the short view, which are current events and factual information. As a dramatist, he gets to have a little more freedom by writing in what he calls the long view, which consists of creatively imagining what happens between the facts.

“As journalists, we tend to talk about things in the short view,” Britton said. “In a piece of theater, what you can explore are the things between the facts.”

Britton said the project’s work on the “Sultan and the Saint” is comprised of the collaborative efforts from researchers from various fields, including medieval studies, religious studies, poetry, journalism and Islamic studies.

“I’ve never seen a project so disciplinarily diverse,” English professor Kurt Heinzelman said. “Especially one with so many objectives, both in the short term and the long term.”

In Britton’s presentation, he focused on the meeting of St. Francis and Sultan Malik al-Kamil of Egypt during the Crusades. In 1219, St. Francis sought to gain an audience with the Sultan by crossing enemy lines during the Fifth Crusade. St. Francis travelled to the Sultan’s camp on the bank of the Nile River in hopes of converting him to Christianity. Britton said St. Francis did not succeed but came back with ideas about reconciliation between Islam and Christianity.

“We know that they met, and we know that it wasn’t a hostile meeting,” Britton said. “We don’t know what they said … now that’s a great opportunity for a playwright.”

Britton said he wants to explore what little is known about the Sultan and St. Francis’ meeting. That research, he said, will eventually come to life on stage.

“It’s a very unlikely friendship between these two people,” Britton said. “Let’s just imagine one afternoon that they are together acting out their parts.”

Author Jayne Anne Phillips speaks about the characters in her new book “Quiet Dell” at the Harry Ransom Center on Thursday. 

Photo Credit: Cristina Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

Author Jayne Anne Phillips, read from her new book, “Quiet Dell,” at the Harry Ransom Center on Thursday.

“Quite Dell,” deals with the true horrific tragedy about a serial murder committed in Phillips’ hometown of West Virginia in the year of 1931. 

The historic event is about a widowed mother, Asta Eicher, becoming infatuated with a man named Harry Powers, who turns out to be a serial killer, eventually murdering Eicher and her three children. According to Phillips, the novel focuses more on one of Eicher's daughters, Annabel.

“I invented the personalities, perceptions, relationships even of these real characters,” Phillips said.

Phillips said her mother would tell her stories about the history of the murders. 

“I was drawn to this material because I’ve known about it all my life,” Phillips said. “But it was really this picture here [of Annabel] that really influenced me.”

This crime was one of the first crimes of the Great Depression, according to Phillips, and functioned as a warning and a lesson to women at the time. This caused another lead character, journalist Emily Thornhill, to become involved in the case. 

“It was spun as a warning and lesson to women which irritates Emily Thornhill really much, and irritated me,” Phillips said. 

Phillips said that while writing her book, it was interesting working with the evidence and gathering research over the years for the making of the novel. 

“I like to work with something. I need a shred of something real. I needed to go from the beginning to the end and even beyond the end,” Phillips said.

History junior Marlene Renz said she has not read the book yet, but she is very interested to do so after hearing hearing from Phillips about how the research went. 

“I thought it was so interesting how she gave the different perspectives and point of views in the book, and I really like how she tied in the research,” Renz said.

While working with the case, Phillips got the chance to go to the house that the family once lived in and visit their graves. She noticed that the graves were unmarked and that bothered her because the tombs marked the end of a family.

“I said to myself ‘If I finish this book, I am going to make sure there are foot stones here at these graves,’” Phillips said.

Phillips said the tombstones of the graves will be uncovered on Nov. 8.

Richard Davenport-Hines discusses the life of Victorian General Charles Gordon as part of a “British Studies Seminar” series at the Harry Ransom Center on Friday evening.
Photo Credit: Stephanie Tacy | Daily Texan Staff

Author Richard Davenport-Hines discussed the life and character of Victorian General Charles Gordon at the Harry Ransom Center on Friday, as part of its weekly “British Studies Seminar” series.

Davenport-Hines described Gordon’s rise from an artillery officer to a general and his eventual death during the evacuation of British troops at Khartoum.

“I’m going to look this afternoon at one of the oddest fish in the Victorian aquarium,” Davenport-Hines said. “A somber, menacing, grotesque creature who was idolized in his lifetime by English public opinion.”

According to Hines, Gordon grew fond of war after his involvement in 1856 in the Crimean War.            

“Gordon disliked military life but liked war,” Davenport-Hines said. “War was, for him, the only acceptable form of pleasure in life.”

Davenport-Hines said that, in 1862, Gordon led a group of Chinese officers fighting in the Taiping Rebellion, earning him the name of “Chinese Gordon.” Davenport-Hines also talked about Gordon’s intense Christian faith.

“All his actions were ruled by God’s presence,” Davenport-Hines said. “He saw himself living each day in the hands of God.”

According to Hines, Gordon’s death occurred during his evacuation of British troops in Sudan.

Martyn Hitchcock, an Austin resident who attended the lecture, said Hines’ lecture gave him a more detailed understanding of Gordon’s significance. 

“This talk was effectively a biography and character description, which enabled me to fill in my knowledge of him,” Hitchcock said. “[I learned more about] the strange person he was.”

Davenport-Hines said Gordon had a drinking problem toward the end of his life, despite his strong Christian faith.

Davenport-Hines also said Gordon had a disdain for women and preferred the company of men and prepubescent boys.

“He found all women either fearsome or repulsive,” Davenport-Hines said.

James Stratton, international relations and global studies senior, said he had limited knowledge of Gordon before coming to the event.  

“I had heard about the Mahdi rebellion in Sudan,” Stratton said.

Stratton said he was interested in learning more about Gordon’s sexuality.

“Also, [I was interested by] his sort of disdain for the female sex,” Stratton said. “[I’m interested in] how people back then interpreted sexuality and how they dealt with it. He totally repressed it and covered it up with religion, and so how people in the past dealt with sexuality and their feelings was very interesting to me because of my own background.”

A group of professors held a discussion panel over important controveries in the book and film "Gone with the Wind."

Photo Credit: Madison Richards | Daily Texan Staff

A faculty panel discussed the controversy and historical background surrounding “Gone with the Wind” on Wednesday as part of the Harry Ransom Center’s ongoing exhibition, “The Making of Gone With the Wind.”

“Gone With the Wind” was originally a book written in 1936 by Margaret Mitchell but was brought to the big screen in 1939 and was directed by David Selznick. The film was referred to as a classic of the golden age of Hollywood movies. At the time, it sparked controversy over how it portrayed sex, race and
violence in the South during both the Civil War and the Reconstruction Era.

According to Jacqueline Jones, history department chair, “hate mail” was sent before and during production of the movie from radical labor groups, veteran groups and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

“They were eloquent statements about the book and how the Union veterans were depicted and how African-Americans were depicted,” Jones said. “They gave a sense of the real controversy that began even before production.”

History associate professor Daina Berry said that during the 1920s and 1930s, many African-Americans were frequently interviewed by media outlets because they were the last descendants of slaves. Despite this, African-Americans were typically portrayed by white actors in films.

“We didn’t have a lot of visual representations of African-Americans during this time period,” Berry said. “This was a film that you finally had African-American actors and actresses playing slaves on stage.”

The protagonist in the film is Scarlett O’Hara, a southern belle who is the daughter of a plantation owner in Georgia. According to Jones, a sort of “melodrama” ensues from Scarlett’s romance and conflicts. Jones said that Scarlett, played by Vivien Leigh in the film, starts out as a spoiled brat on a plantation and transforms into a self-reliant lumber dealer.

“Scarlett embodies this new South,” Jones said. “She’s very enterprising, becomes obsessed with money and really lost touch with the value of the land. She’s become self-reliant, and that’s what some young women reacted to.”

Radio-television-film professor Thomas Schatz said that during the time period the movie was one of the first to have a female lead.

“The female audience was so important to Hollywood at the time,” said Schatz. “What this movie was doing with race and gender was so wonderfully complicated, and it’s the way Hollywood intended it to function.”

The exhibit for the film includes on-set photographs, audition footage and fan mail. It will be available for free tours at the Harry Ransom Center until Jan. 4.

Welsh poet Gwyneth Lewis will read the poetry of Dylan Thomas at the Harry Ransom Center on Wednesday.

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Dr. Kurt Heinzelman | Daily Texan Staff

Poetry should be heard, not seen, according to Welsh poet Gwyneth Lewis. This idea is the inspiration for her latest project, “Dylan Thomas and the Colour of Saying,” which celebrates the art of poetry through oral recitations of fellow Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.  

Lewis, along with English professor Kurt Heinzelman, will read Thomas’ poetry as part of the Poetry on the Plaza series at the Harry Ransom Center this Wednesday at noon. Lewis said the idea for the event came directly from Thomas’ practice of reading poetry aloud before an audience. 

“He used to quite often read other people’s poetry; poets just usually read their own these days,” Lewis said. “I thought as part of the tribute during the centenary year of his birth that it would be a fitting thing to imitate his act of generosity.”

According to Lewis, currently a visiting professor at Princeton University, poems are often designed to make more sense audibly than if they were read to oneself on a page. 

“To read them on your own is sort of like going to swim in a wetsuit,” Lewis said. “It’s much nicer to go skinny-dipping or at least in a bathing costume so that you can actually feel the water.”

On the title of the event, Lewis said that Thomas’ poetry calls upon all five senses and opens up a “colorful world.”

“Poets don’t work on their own; they work in relation to other people’s work,” Lewis said. “We are all colored by each other.”

Heinzelman — who has been publishing poetry for more than 30 years and has served as a co-editor and advisory editor of numerous poetry publications — said the Harry Ransom Center has the largest archive of Dylan Thomas materials in the world, housing over half of all the existing archival material on the poet. Heinzelman said the aura of poetry is something books cannot capture in the same way. 

“Thomas believed very strongly, as [Lewis] and I do, that poetry is an oral event and it wants to be spoken; it wants to be read; it wants to be heard,” Heinzelman said. “It makes the poetry more alive.”

Photo Credit: Daulton Venglar | Daily Texan Staff

Award-winning novelist Ian McEwan presented his new novel, “The Children Act,” at the Harry Ransom Center on Wednesday.

McEwan is well known for his short stories and novels for adults and has won various awards for his distinguished works, including “Amsterdam,” “First Love” and “The Child in Time.” 

The Ransom Center, a humanities research library and museum at the University, became home to McEwan’s archive in May. The archive includes drafts of his already published novels and some unpublished material from his adolescent career. 

McEwan said his newest novel was born from his interest in how one makes judgements.

“As ethical decisions are to be made on a daily basis, I began to take an interest in how judgments are made,” McEwan said. “It is not only judges who have to make verdicts.”

Virginia Reeves, a former member of the University’s Michener Center for Writers, who attended the presentation, said the McEwan archive is a great opportunity to get a closer look at information that only scholars or students writing their dissertations would be able to access.

“You get to see letters and drafts that have not been published, so I think it’s a wonderful thing,” Reeves said.

McEwan said the idea of judgements remains a focal point throughout the novel, first making an appearance in the first chapter. McEwan said his book is based on the idea that making judgments and verdicts often carries grave consequences.

Following the presentation, Ransom Center members and students formed long lines to buy copies of the novel and get an autograph from McEwan. 

Shannon Geison, a finance and government sophomore, said McEwan’s reading gave her a better understanding of his work that she read while she was in high school.

“In high school, I read ‘Atonement,’ which is probably regarded as his most famous book, and I absolutely loved it,” Geison said. “I really enjoyed seeing more of his work because I had only read one and was thus really excited to learn more about it and especially him reading it himself.”

Michener Center Director James Magnuson said McEwen’s presence was welcome at the Ransom Center as he is one of the most distinguished novelists of his generation.

“We are very happy to bring him back to Austin, and certainly any publication of Ian McEwan is reason enough for celebration,” Magnuson said. 

The Harry Ransom Center opened it’s “Gone to the Wind” exhibit to the public on Monday morning. The exhibit showcases orignial artifacts and documents involed in the production of the film.

Photo Credit: Lauryn Hanley | Daily Texan Staff

Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable graced the silver screen 75 years ago in the antebellum classic “Gone with the Wind.” To commemorate its anniversary, the Harry Ransom Center is showcasing hundreds of original artifacts and documents, offering visitors a look behind the scenes of the casting and production of the film. 

Although “Gone With the Wind” is often regarded as an American classic, its subject matter sparked controversy. Letters from the Ku Klux Klan to director David Selznick are included in the exhibit. Some of the letters in the collection lobby for the KKK’s presence in the film’s production and script. But the KKK was not the only group attempting to influence the film’s messages; the NAACP also called for the sensitive treatment of slavery and African-American culture. 

Hutchison said the book “Gone with the Wind” has a dual nature, which was partly responsible for its controversial history.

“[It was] popular and problematic — loved and loathed,” Hutchison said.

While the story line of the film sweeps viewers away into a dramatic love story, critics are quick to catch the inaccurate portrayal of certain historical aspects, particularly slavery. In many ways, Selznick encountered the same dilemmas modern directors face. He once admitted he was willing to sacrifice accuracy for a stunning effect. 

Danielle Sigler, the Ransom Center’s associate director for fellowships and programs, said such issues as race, violence, war and gender are still prevalent in society today. She suggested that directors of movies like “12 Years a Slave” have to confront many of the same questions Selznick did in the 1930s, deciding where to draw the line between accuracy and sensitivity.

English associate professor Coleman Hutchison compared “Gone With the Wind” to a modern-day series, such as “Harry Potter” or “The Hunger Games,” explaining how the public overlooks questionable details as it falls in love with the rich storytelling. Fans of “Gone with the Wind” pass their love of the film along to their children and grandchildren.

Old newspaper clippings line the walls of the exhibit, which updated the public on the search for the perfect actress to play the role of the main character, Scarlett O’Hara. Wilson said many women even identified so closely with O’Hara that some believed they actually were her. When it was first announced the novel would be adapted to film, a nationwide obsession as to who would snag the coveted lead roles began.

“It all came down to Scarlett O’Hara,” said Steve Wilson, the Ransom Center’s film curator. 

Open to the public starting Tuesday, the exhibit takes viewers through the film’s casting, production and premieres. Documents, makeup stills, memos, newspaper articles and other mementos from the film are all on display.

Comedias sueltas from the Harry Ransom Center's collection.

Photo Credit: Anthony Maddaloni

The Harry Ransom Center released one of the largest collections of “comedias suelta,” individually-printed Spanish plays, online for research late June.

Acquired during the 1920s and 1930s, the collection today exceeds more than 15,000 plays and includes over 2,500 Spanish authors, according to Madelin Sutherland-Meier, associate professor in Spanish and Portuguese. While most of the collection dates back to the mid-19th century, some plays, like one by playwright Juan de la Cueva, can be traced back to the 17th century.

Sutherland-Meier said the comedias sueltas can help researchers better understand the history of printing of Spain and also reveal the interests of everyday Spanish readers during that time period.

“Not everyone who lived in Madrid in the 18th century and liked, say, the plays written by Lope de Vega, could afford to buy a book of plays,” Sutherland-Meier said. “But they probably could afford to buy one play, read it and enjoy it, and maybe six months later, they could afford to buy another. They can show us what average people, not just a highly-cultured elite, read.”

Richard Oram, associate director of the Harry Ransom Center and Hobby Foundation librarian, said the collection would also interest researchers in theater history and the history of the book.

Sutherland-Meier said annotations, music sheets and illustrations included inside the plays has attracted attention from scholars covering a wide range of fields.

“A number of the texts have musical scores, so musicologists, especially scholars who study the genre known as the zarzuela, will also find much of interest in the UT collections,” Sutherland-Meier said.

Sutherland-Meier said the collection had been known to many scholars, but was previously inaccessible. In 2010, the Harry Ransom Center received a $137,015 grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources to create an extensive database searchable by author, title and keyword. Oram said the cataloguing of the collection was critical for providing greater accessibility.

“You might as well not have them if they cannot be used, “Oram said.

Jacob Hakim, classics and Latin senior and a fan of traditional theater, said he would be interested in looking at the collection of comedias sueltas to understand the culture and history behind the plays.

Sutherland-Meier said the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, the Department of Hispanic Studies at Texas A&M University and the Ransom Center will host a conference celebrating the cataloguing of the collection on September 29 and 30.